tampabay.com

Seniors get new protection

County commissioners hope a "senior zone" with slower speed limits, more signs and flashing lights will decrease accidents.

By AMBER MOBLEY
Published August 25, 2006


TAMPA - Father Robert Schindler had a 6 p.m. appointment.

Driving to Falkenburg Road Jail to minister to inmates, Schindler, 76, ended up at University Community Hospital instead, sideswiped in front of his John Knox Village retirement home.

The impact totaled the car - on loan from a friend - and also broke three ribs and bruised a lung.

"It's a very dangerous intersection," said Schindler's sister Ethel Hewitt, 78, also of John Knox Village. "You have to make sure that nothing is coming, because cars come so fast you don't stand a chance."

County commissioners acknowledged the traffic risk to seniors last Wednesday, unanimously approving a plan to slow traffic on the stretch of Fletcher Avenue running in front of John Knox Village, 4100 E Fletcher.

Expect the change in late September.

The speed limit will drop from 45 mph to 35 mph along Fletcher from just west of Magnolia Drive eastward to N 42nd Street, a length of about half a mile.

The "senior zone" will include reduced-speed limit warning signs, flashing lights and pavement markings that read 35 mph.

"People are so excited that we're finally getting, we hope, some relief," said Tom Vann, 74, first president of the residents' association at John Knox. "We just hope that the people will get there and slow down because that's a big problem - speed, speed, speed."

The senior zone's signs will have a larger font size called Clearview that's designed to be easily read by folks with 20/70 vision, the minimum acuity allowed for a Florida driver's license.

The county will add street lights and reflective pavement markers to the zone. Traffic signals where 42nd Street a

nd Magnolia intersect Fletcher will allow more time for pedestrians to cross the street.

And additional signs at the entrances to John Knox such as "Do Not Block Driveway" and "Watch for Turning Vehicles" should make access easier for the 1,100 people who live in, work in or visit the complex daily.

Price tag: $36,500.

The senior zone - the first in the nation, according to county officials - is a long time coming.

John Knox residents have begged the county for a traffic signal at the community's entrance since 1989, but this June, Commissioner Brian Blair suggested the senior zone as an alternative.

Ten times cheaper than a traffic signal, the senior zone, a pilot program, could expand countywide as early as Dec. 6 when the county staff is scheduled to present its findings to commissioners.

At least 93 other locations in Hillsborough with large senior populations could be candidates for the zone, said Traffic Services division director Mike McCarthy.

A stretch of W Waters Avenue in front of Rocky Creek Village retirement community in Town 'N Country could become a senior zone in December, said McCarthy.

Joseph A. Way, an 81-year-old amputee who lived in Rocky Creek, was hit and killed by a car near the community's entrance on June 13 as he crossed the intersection of W Waters and Northbridge Boulevard on his motorized scooter.

Back at John Knox Village, Father Robert Schindler was still in the hospital a week after the car crash and must go through rehabilitation, said Hewitt. But the commissioners' approval of the senior zone - a mere two days after her brother's car crash - is comforting to Hewitt.

"Everybody wanted something done," she said, "and I'm really happy."

Amber Mobley can be reached at (813) 269-5311 or amobley@sptimes.com.